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You want employees to be satisfied and engaged in their work so they are using their full abilities to do the appropriate work in your organization. But while employee satisfaction and engagement surveys measure something worthwhile and provide valuable information to HR and the CEO, they don't always identify the root cause of potential disengagement.

These surveys usually identify a symptom of a larger problem within the organization - finding the root cause of disengagement is the only way to understand - and then repair - the issue.

Below, we examine two common symptoms found on employee engagement surveys that are actually indications of a different problem: one with your management staff. 

Symptom 1: Lack of Communication

When an employee expresses concern about a lack of communication in the office, they're often reflecting water cooler conversation. "I worked on a project for two weeks before I found out it was also assigned to someone else." "Management Team made this decision last month and I only found out about it today - I wasted a whole month."

These are real issues, flagged as poor communication that actually reflect and identify a lack of communication between a manager and his or her team members. Decisions made higher in the organization that aren't properly translated to the staff can have a larger impact on their projects and day-to-day work, as well as their sense of stability and inclusion in the organization. This is actually the result of a lack of clarity of a manager's accountability.

When an upper management team sees "poor communication" in the results of an employee engagement survey, the correct course of action is not to publish more newsletters or send more memos. Poor communication is a symptom of a deeper root cause problem: the absence of a formal accountability and authority framework. The employees express a lack of communication, but the real fault lies in the manager, who has failed to establish and maintain open and working channels for discussion and debate between fellow employees, departments and between the executives and the employees.

The proper recourse is to ensure that a smoothly operating system is in place to ensure that work is clearly delegated down the organization within context that is appropriate for each employee.

Symptom 2: Silos in the Workplace

When employees experience problems with how work flows across the organization, it is often labelled as "silos". Someone in another department missed a deadline so the employee couldn't do his or her work. Unreasonable sounding demands are made, handoffs are missed, work is duplicated.

Again, the root cause is not the perception of silos. The root cause is that the organization does not have an accountability and authority framework in place for how work flows across the organization.

When the management team sees "silos" appearing on employee engagement surveys, the root cause lies in the systems for doing work - not in the silos or employees themselves. In the absence of an accountability and authority framework for delegating the flow of work across the organization, managers fail to understand what they're accountable for and therefore are unable to appropriately translate accountability to their direct reports.

An effective manager supports others in the organization, monitors workflow, and ensures that the day-to-work work of his or her staff is improved by working together, rather than by working in silos. This can only happen within a framework that is set by the CEO and within common context throughout the organization. When the CEO establishes a clear accountability and authority framework for the action and interaction of staff, work will flow more smoothly across the organization, conflict will be reduced, and the silo mentality will be broken.

There is only one way to attack the symptoms of employee disengagement in an organization. In most circumstances, the problems staff identify are caused by problems at the management level.

When an organization works to improve the accountability of its management team, employees feel more engaged in their work - and that leads to a more productive, more profitable business.


Larry Hart

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